Cynic in Spain

Real Life on the Costa del Sol

Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we (almost) went to Gibraltar.

‘Twas dawn when once awoke the travelling urge. “A trip” called one. “A journey” piped up a second. “An adventure” said the third in hushed and awe filled tones. And so, as the sun rose over Fuengirola harbour, the die was cast. A trip it was indeed to be and, of sorts, an adventure was about to begin.

The where and how were soon decided, Gibraltar by charabanc, that would suit; for us no stuffy automobile stuck in traffic, but chauffeured luxury upon high the better to see the sights along the way. No planned and regimented excursion either, a pace more suited to our sedentary ways was what we wished.

“But when, when, when.” They cried.
“Hush a while and break your fast.” I replied, “While I consult the electronic highway.”

So search I did for ‘bus timetable Fuengirola Gibraltar’ but to no avail. Nary a time nor table to be found. Yet chanced I upon the name of the esteemed motorbus enterprise. So searched again ‘Portillo Fuengirola Gibraltar’ alas once more an effort doomed to fail. A third attempt, for we are not so lightly brushed aside, ‘Portillo Fuengirola’ and … luck! Up she popped at number one. With phrase book ready by my side, for I could see that Spanish only was the site, on I clicked to find… No hint was there of Gibraltarian light.

“Break out the map!” I exclaimed “Mayhap the doughty Spaniard has another name for our illustrious bastion, one termed in ancient times for they too once controlled our rock.”

But no, there upon the map in English red the name Gibraltar stood out proud amongst a sea of Spanish black, yet I espied another place so close as to be a brother and this I recognised from Portillo’s hard found site.

“La Linea, that’s it,” I said in joyful tones, “10:30, off she goes. Just the ticket, no need to rush.”

At 10:15 with bags and passports backed, our euros clutched in sweating hands we joined the queue in front of Fuengirola’s transit place. When 15 shuffled minutes passed we asked, quite proudly “Tres por La Linea por favour, but hurry or we may miss our coach.” To be informed that tickets could be vouchsafed around the corner but, no hurry, the bus would leave at 11 of the clock as normal.

“11 of the clock,” I spluttered to the cornered clerk. “You jest for 10:30 is the published time”

She, pointing to the printed sheet, I red faced then avowed. I had mistook the Spanish word and half an hour had to bide.

Of the journey itself little there is to tell. A few short stops along the way and miles and miles of motorway. Of wildlife, there was perhaps more to be seen dead upon the road than enjoying the spring sunshine in the fields alongside. The dreariness of the ever present part-completed viviendas soon wore upon the nerves. Our coach was comfort personified and so lightly filled that we congratulated ourselves on such an artful choice of conveyance. It is, perhaps, worthwhile to note that Marbella bus station is far set from the middle of Marbella and that of Estepona so central as to be almost unreachable by anything larger than a pony and trap. The chauffeur drove with neither too much haste nor tardiness and a little before the appointed time we were safely delivered at our destination.

Alighting from our transport and walking out upon the street, there, peaking out amongst the clouds, The Rock was there for all to see and we, eager to stroll on English soil after so many years, had, in scarce no time at all, covered the short distance to the gated border crossing.

What a sight there met our eyes, all resplendent in sergéd blue and titted head, the very soul of British officialdom and order watched with stern, but yet I thought, benign and welcoming gaze at our approach.

“Passports.” Was the gruff unsmiling greeting we received. And we, taken just a little aback by this brusque command, dug deep in bags to find the necessary books.
A most detailed inspection of the offered papers then ensued and soon a colleague, quickly summoned, joined the frey.

“You may not pass.” Spoke he. “Here is no visa from Her Britannic Majesty’s embassy”.
“No what?” I cried. “Here are passes good and true. The Tsar himself has vouched my wife’s best conduct. And here, endorsed by good King Juan of Spain as well”.
“To Malaga you must go post haste,” said he, “and there entreat our legal consul for a stamp ere you may set one foot upon this hallowed ground. Begone from whence you came”. He stern rejoined.

There followed numerous harsh words, I shan’t repeat, which fell upon deaf ears and furrowed brow, indeed it almost came to fisticuffs, but turn we did and with heavy hearts but heads held high we crossed the no-mans land again to our beloved, welcoming Spain.

But what to do? For we had time aplenty now to wait.
“Shall we explore La Linea apace, ‘haps to encounter a taverna for a bite. Then make an earlier than planned return?”

We looked around and though seeing nothing auspicious in the grim aspect of the place decided, for want of better options, to set out a foot in search of food and drink.
A desolate, deserted wasteland this place appeared to be but, by chance, we happened upon a large and well kept square with pavéd streets radiating from the farthest side.
Our hearts at once less heavy at this sign of civilisation we took the first. There before us opened up a vista to soothe the weariest of traveller. As fine and as kempt a calle as one could hope to find, lined both with emporia of many kinds and welcoming bars and bistros with tables set to catch the post meridian sun.

Dine we did on Andalusia’s most sumptuous fare and drink our fill of grape and hop with gay abandon. But no thought of peril for our exposed situation crossed our minds for sharp eyed guardians of the law were ever on patrol about the place to catch a would be miscreant in the act. A most convivial and friendly time was had by all yet, when presently the reckoning was bought to our delight our purses hardly felt the price.

On we strolled past ancient tiled fronts, some waiting to be restored to former glory whilst others, resplendent in their colours, bespoke a careful husbandry of ages past. Parks and plazas unfolded before our darting eyes each more elegant than before until at last we called a halt for it was time to locate our transport home.

Once again at in stations hall, with great dismay we found no bus awaiting our arrival, it had departed 15 minutes past. But wait, here stood one signed for Estepona, surely this would help us on our way. Could we there acquire a connection for further up the coast? Indeed we could we were assured so on we stepped.

Again we saw miles and miles of motorway but not once did we encroach upon its speedy back, for older less well travelled paths was our lot this time and many a forgotten village we were to see. Up hill down dale and coastal path, scarce fit for modern conveyance did we roam until with weary backs and aching legs we were deposited at Estepona’s meeting place.

One quick look was all it took to find an onward bus and so within the quarter hour on we went. I will not tell of the tedium of this stage of our return, except to say, if there is one place which mirrors current economic woes here it is to be found, with boarded windows and empty fronts lining Marbella’s once so golden mile. A sad and chilling sight for such a moneyed enclave to have fallen now so low.

Having toured the town most thoroughly abus and switched at last for our final onward leg we once again were treated to the same. The first unnecessary, the second yet more so and doubly unwelcome at this stage for we had been already almost four hours on the road with the prospect of at least one hour more before we could regain our welcome home.

But home we were just shy of sevens chime and though our plans had gone awry we did rejoice at having found such unexpected cheer beneath the dark and sombre shadow of the fabled Rock and vowed to stay away from its forbidden shore ‘til it returned at last to rightful, Spanish, hands.

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